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Fantasy football rankings: Playoff edition

12/31/2012

While the fantasy playoffs have ended -- and hopefully your team was able to take home the championship -- that doesn't mean we're done with our rankings. Welcome to the NFL playoffs, with 12 teams still vying for their big prize. It's more football and more fantasy!

ESPN's Gridiron Playoff Challenge is always a hit and easy to play, and I'll reveal my lineup later, but we also know many of you participate in off-site drafts and pools. So for those already missing the fantasy football experience, the lineups, the matchups and more, it's time for annual postseason rankings, both for the entirety of the league's playoffs and this weekend. Enjoy!

Quarterbacks: Entire playoffs

1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

4. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

6. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

7. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

8. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

9. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

10. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

11. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

12. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

Quarterbacks: Weekend of Jan. 5-6 only

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

2. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

3. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

4. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

5. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

7. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

8. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

Analysis: In a standard fantasy league, we preach balanced teams. For example, it's OK to choose a quarterback-wide receiver combination from one NFL team. However, when you start adding players to it, you run more risk of bad games or matchups, dealing with the pending bye week, weather, etc. It gets dangerous. In playoff pools, the theme is different. Matchups remain critical, but can also be used to advantage. Of course, unlike a 16-game season, in the playoffs it's one-and-done, and often there are surprises. It makes sense to map out a "March Madness-type" grid predicting the teams you think will make it to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. If you really like the Broncos, as I certainly do, then load up on them.

It's also important to know, as always, your league rules. In ESPN's Gridiron Playoff Challenge, you can adjust rosters after each of the first two weekends. Salaries do change, but there's no incentive to choose Broncos, Patriots, Falcons or 49ers up front. Players on those teams cannot help you this week. Even if Ponder provides only five fantasy points, that's five more than Brady will get. Then you can change the roster. In a full-playoff pool, you cannot. These rankings take into account both strategies, and use standard fantasy scoring.

I expect the Broncos, Patriots and 49ers to play two games, at the least, but admit to having reservations about the Falcons, based on awful performances the past few seasons. Atlanta was drubbed at home two Januarys ago by the Packers, and scored only a safety against the New York Giants in the 2011 playoffs. Perhaps Ryan and pals win a playoff game this season, but the NFC seems considerably more wide open to me than the AFC, which feels right for yet another Manning-Brady heavyweight matchup. In the NFC, it wouldn't surprise me if any of the teams are one-and-done, and it's interesting to note -- well, perhaps not for Falcons fans -- that NFC top seeds routinely fail to advance far. My rankings reflect the uncertainty. If you think the Redskins and Bengals are New Orleans-bound, by all means draft/select that way!

Eric's Gridiron Challenge Roster: Week 1

Create your own roster by clicking here.

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Packers (price: 6.8)

QB: Robert Griffin III, Redskins (6.8)

RB: Arian Foster, Texans (6.1)

RB: Adrian Peterson, Vikings (6.1)

WR: Andre Johnson, Texans (5.5)

WR: Greg Jennings, Packers (5.1)

TE: Owen Daniels, Texans (4.7)

K: Shayne Graham, Texans (4.0)

D: Houston Texans (4.9)

You'll find the first rankings at each position don't necessarily match this weekend's rankings, even removing the top four teams. For example, the rookie quarterback matchup between Wilson and Griffin this weekend should be fascinating. I like Griffin more for one game for statistical purposes, but Wilson more for advancement. It's nothing against the Redskins, but the Seahawks, save for their quarterback, have some playoff experience. If it matters, I like the Texans, Colts, Seahawks and Packers this first weekend, and history tells us -- check the Eli Manning Giants! -- that one of those teams will go far. Don't load up your non-GPC roster solely with players who aren't playing this weekend. You still seek a balance in this respect. One Griffin/Wilson game could be worth more than two for Schaub/Flacco/Ponder, but two games with Aaron Rodgers could very well be worth the most fantasy points at quarterback until the Super Bowl. After this weekend in GPC, I'll be adding Peyton Manning, and hopefully I'll be able to stick with a victorious Rodgers.

Running backs: Entire playoffs

1. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos

2. Stevan Ridley, Patriots

3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings

4. Arian Foster, Texans

5. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks

6. Frank Gore, 49ers

7. Ray Rice, Ravens

8. Alfred Morris, Redskins

9. Michael Turner, Falcons

10. Danny Woodhead, Patriots

11. DuJuan Harris, Packers

12. Vick Ballard, Colts

13. Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons

14. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals

15. Bernard Pierce, Ravens

16. LaMichael James, 49ers

17. Ben Tate, Texans

18. Ryan Grant, Packers

19. Alex Green, Packers

20. Shane Vereen, Patriots

21. Robert Turbin, Seahawks

22. Lance Ball, Broncos

23. Ronnie Hillman, Broncos

24. Willis McGahee, Broncos

25. Brandon Bolden, Patriots

26. Evan Royster, Redskins

27. Jason Snelling, Falcons

28. Cedric Peerman, Bengals

29. Justin Forsett, Texans

Running backs: Weekend of Jan. 5-6 only

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings

2. Arian Foster, Texans

3. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks

4. Ray Rice, Ravens

5. Alfred Morris, Redskins

6. Vick Ballard, Colts

7. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals

8. DuJuan Harris, Packers

9. Bernard Pierce, Ravens

10. Ben Tate, Texans

11. Ryan Grant, Packers

12. Alex Green, Packers

13. Robert Turbin, Seahawks

14. Evan Royster, Redskins

15. Cedric Peerman, Bengals

Analysis: This January those in postseason pools are blessed by having myriad options of high scorers at quarterback, with eight of the top 12 season scorers at the position in the playoffs, as well as at running back. Only Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is not playing this week among the top six running back scorers. A year ago, Isaac Redman was in demand. Anyway, while I don't think Peterson will carry his upstart team to a second consecutive victory (and this one on the road) against Rodgers' experienced bunch, the 25 fantasy points he might score could top what most running backs accomplish the entirety of the playoffs. Same with Foster, though I think his team will right the ship and win a game.

The top four names at running back will not be in action this first weekend, so there's no need to choose them in GPC until next week. When considering upside choices, I've become a fan of Green Bay's Harris. This wouldn't be the first time the Packers have taken a fellow who did little during the regular season and relied on him for a playoff run (James Starks). Also note throughout these rankings that there are injured players here and there, including a few who might surprise you for their inclusion; Denver's McGahee, for example, is eligible to return for the AFC Championship Game, though based on my Moreno rank I'm not optimistic he'll make an impact. There's little need for handcuffing backups in postseason pools, but if your pool is deep, the more names the better.

Wide receivers: Entire playoffs

1. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos

2. Eric Decker, Broncos

3. Wes Welker, Patriots

4. Greg Jennings, Packers

5. Andre Johnson, Texans

6. Michael Crabtree, 49ers

7. Randall Cobb, Packers

8. James Jones, Packers

9. Roddy White, Falcons

10. Julio Jones, Falcons

11. A.J. Green, Bengals

12. Jordy Nelson, Packers

13. Pierre Garcon, Redskins

14. Brandon Lloyd, Patriots

15. Reggie Wayne, Colts

16. T.Y. Hilton, Colts

17. Torrey Smith, Ravens

18. Brandon Stokley, Broncos

19. Anquan Boldin, Ravens

20. Sidney Rice, Seahawks

21. Golden Tate, Seahawks

22. Santana Moss, Redskins

23. Jarius Wright, Vikings

24. Donnie Avery, Colts

25. Leonard Hankerson, Redskins

26. Deion Branch, Patriots

27. Andrew Hawkins, Bengals

28. Jacoby Jones, Ravens

29. Josh Morgan, Redskins

30. Randy Moss, 49ers

31. Marvin Jones, Bengals

32. Kevin Walter, Texans

33. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks

34. Jerome Simpson, Vikings

35. Harry Douglas, Falcons

Wide receivers: Weekend of Jan. 5-6 only

1. Greg Jennings, Packers

2. Andre Johnson, Texans

3. Randall Cobb, Packers

4. A.J. Green, Bengals

5. James Jones, Packers

6. Pierre Garcon, Redskins

7. Jordy Nelson, Packers

8. Reggie Wayne, Colts

9. T.Y. Hilton, Colts

10. Torrey Smith, Ravens

11. Anquan Boldin, Ravens

12. Sidney Rice, Seahawks

13. Golden Tate, Seahawks

14. Santana Moss, Redskins

15. Jarius Wright, Vikings

16. Donnie Avery, Colts

17. Leonard Hankerson, Redskins

18. Andrew Hawkins, Bengals

19. Jacoby Jones, Ravens

20. Josh Morgan, Redskins

21. Marvin Jones, Bengals

22. Kevin Walter, Texans

23. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks

24. Jerome Simpson, Vikings

Analysis: As with the other positions, Broncos fared well here, and there's also a Packers slant. These teams do tend to score many points. It's also not a bad idea to align your quarterback with a wide receiver, and after this weekend think about locking in salaries, as well. For example, Rodgers and Cobb will not be as affordable for their second playoff game.

For those in point-per-reception formats, it's interesting that some of the pass-catching running backs we've grown to rely on are not still playing, like Martin, Darren Sproles, C.J. Spiller and LeSean McCoy, so I'd call this a particularly strong corps of wide receivers, even sans Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall.

Tight ends: Entire playoffs

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

2. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers

4. Owen Daniels, Texans

5. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons

6. Jacob Tamme, Broncos

7. Dennis Pitta, Ravens

8. Joel Dreessen, Broncos

9. Vernon Davis, 49ers

10. Delanie Walker, 49ers

11. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals

12. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings

13. Ed Dickson, Ravens

14. Coby Fleener, Colts

15. Dwayne Allen, Colts

16. Zach Miller, Seahawks

17. Logan Paulsen, Redskins

18. Anthony McCoy, Seahawks

Tight ends: Weekend of Jan. 5-6 only

1. Jermichael Finley, Packers

2. Owen Daniels, Texans

3. Dennis Pitta, Ravens

4. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals

5. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings

6. Ed Dickson, Ravens

7. Coby Fleener, Colts

8. Dwayne Allen, Colts

9. Zach Miller, Seahawks

10. Logan Paulsen, Redskins

11. Anthony McCoy, Seahawks

Analysis: For those who relied on Green Bay's Finley this season and didn't quite make it to their championship, it might sound odd that he's the top option for this weekend. Finley, who tied for 17th in season scoring with Marcedes Lewis, did produce season bests of eight receptions and 72 yards Sunday, and he does have 196 receiving yards in two playoff games (one good game, one quiet). Hey, it's not a strong position for fantasy purposes! Gronkowski played in only 11 games and still came within five standard points of Jimmy Graham's top spot at tight end. I'm making room on my GPC roster for Gronk this time next week!

Kickers: Entire playoffs

1. Matt Prater, Broncos

2. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots

3. Mason Crosby, Packers

4. David Akers, 49ers

5. Matt Bryant, Falcons

6. Shayne Graham, Texans

7. Justin Tucker, Ravens

8. Kai Forbath, Redskins

9. Steven Hauschka, Seahawks

10. Adam Vinatieri, Colts

11. Josh Brown, Bengals

12. Blair Walsh, Vikings

Analysis: One should never spend much time on a kicker, so in a draft, make this your final pick. In GPC, don't be concerned about taking the least expensive option at this position. In other words, don't overthink things. The Packers could score four touchdowns this weekend and give Crosby nary a field goal attempt. Hauschka could score all of Seattle's points in a 12-10 win. One never knows.

Defenses: Entire playoffs

1. Broncos

2. 49ers

3. Patriots

4. Texans

5. Packers

6. Seahawks

7. Falcons

8. Ravens

9. Redskins

10. Colts

11. Bengals

12. Vikings

Analysis: It's interesting that so many young quarterbacks are debuting in these playoffs, but I don't see Griffin, Wilson or Luck as turnover machines, either. Also, one could ask why the Broncos and Patriots rank so well when I predict these teams will face off, and it's not likely to be a 10-7 game. Good point. Still, you want a defense that gets a few games.

Good luck this weekend and for the entire playoffs. Happy New Year!